K-Cup Inventor Says He Regrets His Famous Invention

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Business Insider reports that the coffee industry is worth an estimated $100 billion U.S. dollars worldwide. Of this amount, a considerable portion is spent on K-Cups, the single-serving coffee pods that are used in Keurig machines and other coffee makers. But this trend may not be as convenient as it seems: research shows that K-Cups have a disastrous effect on the environment, due to their lack of recyclability and the amount of waste they create. Now, even the creator of the famous coffee pod is speaking disapprovingly of his invention.John Sylvan originally pictured K-Cups as the perfect option for constricted work spaces. His product, a small sealed cup filled with ground coffee, works in conjunction with a specially-designed Keurig machine, which is often smaller and faster than a traditional coffee maker. The machine pokes a hole through the lid, fills the pod with water, and then forces a cup of coffee out using water pressure. Since 1998, the Keurig Green Mountain company has sold more than 45 million of these machines and 30 billion K-Cups, which they claim make fresher, faster and more consistent cups of coffee.

However, this sheer level of use is part of the problem: Mother Jones has reported that in 2013, enough K-Cups were produced to encircle the equator 10.5 times. While this yielded nearly $5 billion in annual revenue for Keurig, research shows that most of these products wound up in landfills. To make matters worse, the pods are made from plastic #7, which is made from four different layers of material and can only be processed by special recycling facilities.

This problem is especially problematic in Canada, where an estimated 40% of homes have a single-serving coffee brewer. As the North American country is one of the biggest coffee-consuming nations in the world, this means that millions of K-cups are sent to Canadian landfills every year. This only contributes to the high level of waste already associated with the coffee industry: just like the coffee pods, plastic stir sticks, Styrofoam cups and other products are not recyclable. In contrast, more traditional coffee filters can be recycled.

Because of these facts, Sylvan recently admitted that he regrets creating the K-Cup in an interview with the Atlantic. While Keurig has pledged to make all of its K-Cup packs recyclable by 2020, Sylvan says he doubts this promise, claiming that the company has rejected his suggestions for sustainability. Meanwhile, Keurig has publicly considered incorporating polypropylene into their current materials and redesigning the product.

The situation is confusing, particularly to consumers who may not have all of the facts. However, Sylvan says the choice is in the hands of the Keurig user. “From a personal standpoint, it saves 20 seconds of your day,” he told the Atlantic. “What’s that worth?”

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